Oct. 21, 2009

Fort Pickett, not just for annual training anymore

By Capt. Matt Nowak
Virginia Army Guard Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Since being turned over from active duty to the Virginia National Guard in 1997, Fort Pickett has completed one of its most active years for both its facilities and training events.


Canadian Army Reserve Soldiers trained at Fort Pickett along
with U.S. Army Soldiers during Exercise Southbound Trooper
IX in February. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Raymond L. Patterson)

Since Sept. 1, 2008, Fort Pickett saw growth in the number of areas on the installation. Training man-days will be expected to top out at 875,000. Fort Pickett also saw a variety of new construction and the improvement and upgrade of facilities.

Virginia Guard units are given priority of training, but a variety of units from around the region and services conduct training. Along with National Guard and Army Reserve units, active Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard units from across the country train at Fort Pickett.

National Guard units from North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have trained at the Maneuver Training Center throughout the year. The Maneuver Training Center also sponsors a yearly training exercise held each February called Southbound Trooper which includes Soldiers from Canada and Great Britain.

“We have some really awesome capabilities here and we are very customer oriented in allowing units to conduct their training as they request,” said Col. Tom Wilkinson, the commander of Fort Pickett. “We always focus on safety, but we try to give units the latitude to build their own training plans. The active units like Pickett because our resources are more readily available than the ones they have to compete for at active bases.”

MTC can offer commanders a wide variety of training to individually and collectively train their Soldiers. It has about 41,000 acres of available training land. Included are 21 ranges for individual and crew served weapons qualification and a Multi-Purpose Range Complex capable of firing tank Table 8 and Bradley Table 12.


Two Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C., arrived at Fort Pickett in January to train in preparation for an upcoming overseas deployment. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Collective training ranges include convoy live fire, Infantry Platoon Battle Course and a Joint IED Defeat Organization lane, which is in the final stages of construction. Also included is a Military Operations in Urban Terrain site, urban assault course, and a fully instrumented shoot house. MTC has facilities to include training for aviation assets. It has an airfield capable of landing a C-17 and a combat assault strip. Fort Pickett offers restricted airspace to 18,000 feet, making it very desirable for UAV operations.

The 183rd Regional Training Institute, the Virginia Guard’s schoolhouse, offers a variety of educational opportunities for individual training. The RTI has a number of military occupational specialty qualification courses to include infantry, transportation and military police. It also offers the following courses: Basic and Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Course, Warrior Leader Course, First Sergeant Course, Company Commander's Course, Combatives, Light Leaders, Rappel Master, Warrant Officer Course and Officer Candidate School. 

In January, the RTI broke ground the first phase of a two-phase $25 million construction project expected to be completed in August 2010. The buildings will include an 8,000 square foot regimental headquarters building, a 61,500 square foot education building, a 9,700 square foot Officer Candidate School Building and a 4,900 square foot 250-seat auditorium with stage.

"The 183rd Regiment will soon have world class facilities as the new RTI campus is under construction. Since the inception of the RTI our facilities have never matched our exceptional training capabilities as evidenced by two ‘Centers of Excellence’ ratings. One for our 1st Battalion and one for our 3rd Battalion Officer Candidate School,” explained Command Sgt. Maj. Howard Halfacre, the 183rd RTI’s top enlisted Soldier. “The new facilities will provide a standard of living and learning for National Guard Soldiers equal to our active duty brothers."

As a training installation with many aging facilities, MTC had a busy year with upgrading and improving buildings and training areas

Part of the President’s stimulus package included $7.5 million in funds for facilities improvement at Pickett. The money will be used to upgrade barracks, administrative buildings and dining facilities. About $2.5 million was obligated in 2009 to improve barracks. The administrative buildings and dining facilities will begin work in the 2010 fiscal year. About $1.7 million will be put into energy saving initiatives for some of its facilities. Funds will be used to upgrade HVAC, electrical and insulation in the 2400 block of buildings. Additional funds were secured to retrofit compressors with higher Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio rated models to make heating and cooling more efficient, reducing costs in the long run.

Along with building upgrades, numerous ranges were also upgraded. Building 1702 was tied into building 1700, becoming a site to process Soldiers for deployments. To compliment the JIEDDO lane, a Gamer Classroom is being built to assist with training Soldiers in IED tactics. This building will house simulation equipment to support JIEDDO training and also serve as a “Rock Drill” and After Action Review site. Other projects include construction of a telecommunications building, renovation of the Warrant Officer Course and upgrades to the showers in the Peregory Complex. 

MTC’s environmental program was also involved with a few projects throughout the year.


U.S. Airmen and Soldiers, alongside coalition forces from around the world, mostly security forces and special operations personnel, trained at Fort Pickett in April as part of a program called Patriot Seven. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site saw the completion of a stormwater infrastructure improved project. The project’s purpose is to improve water quality issues, sediment loading in the unnamed tributary of Hurricane Branch. It will facilitate the restoration of the stream back to its natural state. The improvement lessened sediment load from overland runoff from the parking and storage lots at the MATES. Work included rerouting gutters to underground storage systems, installing and improving drop inlets, installing and improving trench drains, and repairing conveyance channels.

Another project at the MATES facility was the construction of a stormwater pond. The project was initiated to help remove sediment from overland flow and decrease velocity of water, protecting a downstream tributary. A sediment basin was constructed to allow two ponds to collect sediment in order to slow overland flow leading into the tributary.

The environmental program is also involved with putting money back into area communities. The program has made the timber harvest program profitable for the first time. In 2008, the program generated profits of over $200,000, contributing nearly $100,000 in state entitlements for the surrounding county school systems. Based on projections, 2009 timber harvesting will generate profits of just under $250,000.

Recently, Fort Pickett joined Fort A.P. Hill and the Defense Supply Center Richmond as the winners of the first Virginia Department of Defense Eagle Awards for environmental stewardship. More than 20 military installations across Virginia were eligible to compete for the award. (Click here to read the article about Fort Pickett receiving the Eagle Award.)

Fort Pickett also has a robust hunting and fishing program. Permits can be obtained at the Fish & Wildlife Game Check Station off of route 40, east of the airfield. It operates Tuesday to Saturday on open hunting days during the fall hunting seasons. (Click here for additional information about Fort Pickett’s Hunting & Fishing Regulations.)

Morale, welfare and recreation facilities have also seen an improvement this past year. A new leisure center was improved this year. Located at Bldg 2403, it offers pizza, drinks, games and big screen television. There is also an internet café located in the building. Fort Pickett is coordinating with the Fort Lee Post Exchange manager to facilitate upgrades to its PX. An outdoor café as well as a "Java Café" kiosk is planned to open in the future.

With all the activity inside the gates, Pickett was also involved with events for the community outside the gates.

Fort Pickett has supported the town Christmas parade each year and has participated in Heritage Day and Night Out for Crime providing volunteer Soldier support and military attendance in support of the local community.     

In June, a ceremony was held to re-dedicate the historical marker honoring Lt. Col. Thornton L. Mullins. Mullins was commander of the 111th Field Artillery Battalion, who died leading Soldiers on D-Day at Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. The public ceremony took place on the western side of the installation.

“We continue to work with the local community to develop and build on our supportive relationships,” said Wilkinson.

Fort Pickett will be hosting a couple of inaugural fall events and making them annual traditions. A Commanders Halloween Masquerade Ball will be held Friday, October 23rd from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. Starting at 10 a.m. the next morning there will be an Open House displaying military equipment and information about Fort Pickett with children’s activities and games. Later that evening a haunted hayride will be set up for older children and adults.

Wilkinson has also stated he is committed to bringing the historical piece of Fort Pickett back to the forefront with the ultimate goal of having a museum on post

“I hope to see 2010 as a banner year for Fort Pickett,” said Wilkinson. “Reaching the one million man-day mark would be great.  Fort Pickett is a diamond in the rough and I encourage units to use our assets to the fullest.  I also look forward to continuing the great rapport and relationship we share with Nottoway County and working together to expand the opportunities and support to our great Soldiers.”

An Operational Readiness Training Complex is high on Fort Pickett’s wish list. It would be a brigade complex complete with fully connected workspaces, barracks, dining facilities and motor pools. Future plans include a sports complex, which would serve the surrounding community, a new PX and reopening the swimming pool.

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